Category Archives: Part 1-2

Chapter 49: Finding Ren Pt. 2

“Leta.” His voice was raspy and dry, unused for days. His eyes scrutinized her face. “How — “

Before he could properly voice his myriad of questions, Leta angled her forehead against his, and then her lips were pressed onto his, softly but warmly, relief pouring out of her and into him, until she knew it had been a few seconds too long and she broke away.

“We have to go,” she breathed shakily, fumbling now to get Ren’s arm around her shoulders as she hurried to a stand. “Can you walk?”

“Leta.” Ren was having a most difficult time pulling himself into the moment, out of the haze. “How’d — I can’t leave, we can’t make it past–“

“No, no, we will,” Leta hastened, and there was a note of hope in her voice now, her breathing still shaky from the threat of tears. “I’m not alone. We just have to hurry — “

Mercifully, Ren seemed to be gaining more consciousness and movement in his limbs as Leta drew his arm around her neck and hurried to the door.

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Thump.

Fiearius spun around just in time to see the agent’s figure land heavily on the hangar floor. From where he was standing at the base of the Dionysian’s ramp, he couldn’t see which of his helpers from above had fired the shot, but he’d have to remember to thank both Corra and Finn later. They were likely the only reason he was still standing at all.

The ‘grab the biggest gun on the ship and cause a distraction’ plan had started out rather well, mostly because the biggest gun on the ship was a monstrosity Corra had affectionately named ‘the Crowd Breaker’ that effectively fired an array of ten rounds at once in practically every direction. It wasn’t built to do that. But apparently she’d broken it at one point and that was the miraculously positive result.

The Crowd Breaker and Finn’s rifle had been enough to fight off the initial wave and, he presumed, buy Leta and Cyrus the time they needed. Now, however, the inevitable had occurred: Fiearius had run out of ammo.

Wham.

Fiearius stepped back as another agent stumbled and fell to the ground.

Fortunately, the Crowd Breaker wasn’t just a great gun. It was also a pretty fantastic battering ram and he’d made good use of it in simply swinging its length into his attackers’ faces. Face after face after face. It seemed the Baltimore agents were following an order to simply overwhelm him until he could be captured. Alive.

Not a single one had fired at him which could only mean one thing: someone on this ship knew about the Verdant CID. Someone knew he had it. And someone knew that some poor prison ship agent shooting him down would only cause more problems. Someone knew he had to be kept breathing.

But who that was couldn’t concern him for the time being. For now, he had to stay focused. Focused on the man’s face in front of him as he knocked his teeth out. And the next who got an elbow to the gut and the butt of a gun to the forehead. It was becoming mechanical at this point, like some rhythmic dance that was slowly wearing down his energy. He couldn’t stop, he had to keep going until the ground team returned, but dov’ha ti’arta, he wasn’t as young as he used to be. Nor was he the only one doling out injuries.

There was blood running down his temple from a blow he couldn’t now remember. Someone had dug a knife into his shoulder right before Finn took him down. There had been a few seconds when enough of them had managed to restrain him long enough to put some mounting bruises on his ribs. But the pain of the wounds, even the worst of it, was drowned out by adrenaline. That is, until all of a sudden, he felt a sharp burning tear across his legs.

Before he even had a chance to reconcile what had happened, he found himself crumbling to the floor, his joints no longer willing to support themselves with the fire now racing through his nerves. There was blood, he realized with a start, looking down at his legs through vision that was starting to become fuzzy, lots of it. He could feel the warm stickiness spreading quickly and coating his skin.

A familiar scream sounded from above the ship and a familiar voice shouted something directly behind him, but he couldn’t understand any of the words. It sounded like it was coming through a tunnel. Far off, distorted. His weapon was wrenched out of his hands, an effort he couldn’t even fight.  A figure’s shadow spread over him from just above on the ramp. And slowly he became aware that the reason this had happened, the reason he had fallen, was a deep gash on the back of his legs, right where the joints met. And he knew exactly whose blade had made the cut.

Struggling to regain his senses, Fiearius managed to slowly look up to face the triumphant figure standing above him. Though Desophyles Cordova has always been an inch or two shorter, he nonetheless consistently dwarfed Fiearius simply in breadth alone. He was the one man Fiearius would never challenge to an arm wrestle. Not just because he was obviously stronger. But because he knew every single way in which he might cheat.

“Well,” he began, straining to keep his voice conversational, despite the searing pains he was beginning to feel all over his body. Apparently some of those hits had been a little harder than he’d thought. “Fancy running into you here.”

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But Dez wasn’t paying him any attention. He was standing there, holding up the long straight blade that bore a fresh sheen of blood and admiring it thoughtfully. For a long moment, he said nothing. Until at last he asked, as casually as someone who’d just sat down to dinner with an old friend, “Didn’t you used to mock me for bringing this on missions?” He glanced down at Fiearius now, his dark eyes sharp and hollow as ever. “Bit ironic, isn’t it?”

Fiearius was in no laughing mood. He was starting to feel faint and though his arms were still managing to hold him up, they wanted to crumble any minute now. Even so, he forced a bitter one-note chuckle and growled, “Hilarious. So they’ve got you serving–” His breath choked in his lungs, “–on TTDs now? Kind of a downgrade.”

“They told me it was a useless gamble to wait here,” Dez remarked absently as he began wiping the blood from his blade onto his shirt. “They said there was no way you’d do something so stupid as to waltz right onto a Society prison ship of all places.”

Suddenly, he glanced down at Fiearius as though only just realizing he was there. A slow smile pulled across his face as he crouched down beside him and clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder. Fiearius struggled for his arms not to give way from the weight. “But they don’t know you like I do,” he said quietly. “They don’t know your weaknesses.” Dez sighed heavily and put his hands on his knees. As though scolding a child, he shook his head and said, “What did I always tell you about pretty girls?” His smile shifted into a sympathetic frown “They’ll only cause trouble.”

Fiearius met his stare calmly, though he was anything but. His thoughts went to Leta and Cyrus, out there on the ship with no idea what they were going to come back to. It hadn’t worked. This whole thing. He’d failed. And all at once, Dez put a hand on his forehead and shoved it backwards into the floor.

As he felt his mind start to dip into unconsciousness, he saw Dez stand up over him. “Forget the ship, find the others,” he ordered to the agents still hovering around the scene. “They’re here somewhere.” He glanced down at Fiearius, his expression cold as ice. “Someone take this one to a containment unit while I prepare my ship.” And the last thing Fiearius heard as his vision turned to black was, “We’re going home.”

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Chapter 48: Boarding the Baltimore Pt. 3

Minutes later, after Fiearius and Finn hastened to their posts on the other side of the ship, Leta stepped inside the ship’s tiny cramped airlock, waiting beside Cyrus and Corra. She felt numb with shock and readiness: the Baltimore was beyond that door. Any minute now …

Abruptly, she felt cold metal press against her hand — a gun, Corra was handing her a gun. Of course. Leta nodded at her and cocked the gun readily in her hand, an action she’d done hundreds of times by now. Which was funny. Prior to the Dionysian she’d never even touched a handgun before. Some parts of her, it seemed, Ren would no longer recognize …

“You come back, okay?” Corra pressed quietly, her brown eyes shining with worry. “Promise me. You get Ren, and you promise me you’ll come back.”

“Of course,” said Leta, startled. “Of course I will.” But she sounded much braver than she felt.

Luckily, Corra had already moved over to Cyrus and wrapped her arms around his waist. “You too,” she mumbled as he awkwardly patted her on the back.

Suddenly, below their feet, the floor lurched. The walls vibrated, then went very still: they had landed. Leta swallowed hard in her throat, but before she could speak, voices sounded from the other side of the door. Angry, shouting voices, accompanied by pounding on the door …

Fiearius was right: they were ready for them.

Corra raised her eyebrows, suddenly offering a smile. “Sounds rowdy out there.”

Finally, Leta could not take it anymore. She turned to Corra and Cyrus sharply.

“Listen,” she breathed. “You don’t have to do this. Either of you. You don’t need to go out there, you don — “

Corra interrupted her with a scoff. “Don’t be silly, chika.”

“Of course we do,” Cyrus said simply. “What else are friends for if not raiding Society prison ships?”

Leta shook her head at the pair of them, watching as they stepped toward the door.

With little else to do, Leta joined them and waited. They would know when it was time, Fiearius had said. And sure enough, moments later, Leta heard the heavy clunk of the Dionysian’s ramp hitting the metal floor of the Baltimore’s hangar and the uproar that followed. The voices and pounding outside the airlock door changed to footsteps and soon to silence as those outside fled to join the firefight on the other side of the ship.

Corra readied her gun and looked up at her. “Good luck,” she whispered.

Dov’ha ti’harian,” said Cyrus in return, mostly under his breath. Corra cast him a puzzled glance.

“I thought you didn’t believe in the Ridellian gods.”

Cyrus shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t hurt to try. Let’s go.”

He stepped forward and pushed open the metal door, revealing the hangar that unfolded and unfolded before Leta’s eyes. She’d never seen one so tremendously large.  It was airy and windy enough to feel like they were actually outdoors, stepping onto a real landscape. It would have been fascinating and beautiful in a way that industry was beautiful, if only she was here under vastly different circumstances, and if only the Society librera was not emblazoned high on its metallic walls.

Leta’s stomach lurched. Armed agents — wearing that same librera — were darting everywhere, yelling orders, cocking their guns …

But somehow, they were passing by this part of the Dionysian. They were dodging past Cyrus and Leta. Whatever chaos the captain was spinning — and she could hear it even clearer now, the gunfire in her ears that rooted her in place — in this moment, it’d drawn their eye.

Whatever Fiearius was doing, it was working.

For now.

Inhaling a sharp breath, Leta suddenly dodged out of the hatch, clutched her gun in her hand and ran like there was fire at her heels.

“There’s the door,” came Cyrus’ voice from her right side as he sprinted beside her. That door? thought Leta. That tiny shadow on the wall, impossibly far away? Leta felt her heart lurch, but her legs just ran faster. She didn’t pay any heed to the agents filling the hangar. She didn’t glance back to investigate the scene at the Dionysian. It was like she had blinders on all the way up until somehow, miraculously, her hand rammed into a door control and the smooth shiny metal slid open to reveal the small control room beyond.

Cyrus hurried inside behind her and shouted “Cover me!” as he darted over to the console across the room.

At once, Leta spun around and hit the door control again. As it closed, she looked out into the hangar where countless agents had surrounded the rusted dark shape of the Dionysian. For just an instant, she could have sworn she saw a glimpse of red hair amongst the fray. But the door slid shut.

She glanced back at Cyrus, her heart hammering madly in her chest. Had anyone seen them? Would they be followed?

Leta threw a dozen paranoid glances over her shoulder, her gun tight in her hand. It seemed to take years as he typed away frantically, but it was really only seconds until Cyrus turned around and yelled words Leta would never forget.

“He’s in cell 423! Let’s go!”

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Chapter 48: Boarding the Baltimore Pt. 2

Two mornings later, as she drifted toward the bridge, Leta found the hallways were too ghostly quiet. Especially against the storm raging inside her head.

She had barely slept. Since Fiearius had made the announcement, anything but Ren and their mission had been forgotten, sleep included. Already she’d watched hollowly as most of the crew — Amora, Maya, Niki, Javier — departed the ship for the nearest inn, hopefully to safety.

And after that, it seemed as though every hour, her mind had changed. At one point she had hovered near the hatch of Fiearius’ room, ready to go wake him up and call it all off, and then seconds later her mind shot to Ren, so close, tortured in a cell. Of course they couldn’t storm a prison ship and of course they had to. How could any of them make it back alive? And yet, Fiear would not have sent his own brother to his death, so what were their chances, exactly?

None of these thoughts were reconcilable in the slightest, though she tried, over and over, to reason through them.

Finally, silent as a ghost, she stepped into the bridge. She knew it was time.

Inside, Fiearius was tense and still in the pilot’s seat, Cyrus beside him silently. Corra, who had volunteered to join the mission without hesitation, stood against the wall, biting her thumbnail. Finn stood near her slanted himself in the doorway, his arms crossed.

Leta almost greeted the four of them, but as soon as she stepped into the room, she went very rigid. There was movement at the great bay window.

Slowly, the long grey bow of the Baltimore crept into view, and kept creeping, until an entire landscape of shining metal and glass filled up the whole window. She could see just how easily the Baltimore dwarfed the Dionysian. She had the distinct sense they had just stepped into its grand shadow.

And Ren was aboard that monster? Her Ren? Ren Calimore. She could so easily picture — like she’d just seen him this morning — the black spiky tufts of his hair over his forehead, the thin glasses he wore over the bridge of his nose, the lines that framed his mouth when he laughed or grinned, the curve of his lips when he frowned, intent and thoughtful. And that was hardly all; she had just about every bit of him memorized now. And yet she could not picture him anywhere on that ship.

The sight of the Baltimore did not, though, as she would have expected, send a streak of fear down her spine. In fact, she found the opposite unfolding within her. What it did instill was a sudden measure of resolution, a wildfire burning in her chest.

Because Ren did not belong on that ship and he would not be there for much longer.

Silence enveloped the bridge as everyone gazed at the ship.

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“Last chance to turn around, kiddo,” said Fiearius with a half-hearted smirk. No sooner had the words left his mouth, the Dionysian’s console suddenly lit up red and started beeping quietly.

“Automatic docking sequence,” Cyrus muttered, giving a start. “We’re being pulled in. Probably should have seen that coming.”

Fiearius’ hands fell from the console and he looked back at Leta again. “Nevermind,” he remarked shortly and stood up from his chair. For a moment, he stood silently, staring at the massive ship just outside the Dionysian’s window almost like it was an old friend he hadn’t seen in some time. And perhaps wasn’t all that glad to see again. At last, he broke his gaze and turned for the door.

“Let’s go.”

His meager skeleton crew shuffled out behind him.

“Should we go over the plan again?” Cyrus asked in the hallway. “Y’know…just to be safe.”

Fiearius didn’t respond immediately. When he did, his tone was grim, “Sure. If you want.” He released a sigh and turned to face his crew. “When we land, they’ll be on us immediately. I’m gonna take the biggest fucking gun we have and go out the front ramp and keep ‘em busy. Finn’s gonna head up to the roof and offer some suppressing fire to hold ‘em off.”

“Don’t worry mate,” said Finn brightly, “I’ll protect you.”

But Leta was startled. “You’re really volunteering for all this?” she said to Finn.

“Of course. Wouldn’t miss all the fun.”

“And you two,” Fiearius went on, nodding to Cyrus and Leta, “are gonna head out the back of the Dionysian. Go straight across the hangar to the starboard auxiliary control room. Corra will provide cover for as long as you’re within sight of the ship. Once you’re no longer in sight, she’ll join Finn up top.”

Cyrus nodded and recited quietly, more to himself than anyone, “I can use the control room’s console to find Ren’s cell.” He glanced over at Leta. “And we’ll go get him.”

Leta only nodded. She couldn’t speak.

“Get back as soon as you can,” Fiearius told his brother briskly. “As soon as the three of you step foot on this ship, it leaves. And you’re sure you can override the docking security?”

This time, Cyrus nodded quickly. “Not a problem. Their system’s much weaker than they like to think. I know the guy who designed it. Not exactly the brightest of the bunch.”

“Good.” Fiearius looked around at each of them. “Any questions?”

It was the Dionysian who responded: the walls around them began to tremble and shake.

“That’s the hangar shield…” Cyrus murmured, looking up.

“Showtime,” said Finn, casting a broad smirk that no one returned. Everyone began to scatter toward their places — everyone except Leta and Fiearius, who suddenly found themselves alone, standing across from one another.

Leta wanted to say something to him — anything — but the thought of Ren being so close made her voice dry up in her throat. She felt both terrified for Fiearius and deeply grateful, and it was hard to know where to begin. If she should even begin.

“Fiear, I don’t really know how to thank you for this.”

“Nothing to thank me for yet,” he said simply.

A broken sigh heaved from her chest. “Well, if we do make it through this, I’ll owe you big-time.”

“Nah.” His mouth curved as if he wanted to smirk at her. But his gaze set on her face was sad — and almost affectionate, tender — when he added, “We’ll call it even.”

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Chapter 47: Giving In Pt. 3

“She deserves to know, Fiear,” Cyrus said coldly. Fiearius groaned and pressed his palm to his forehead. Twenty minutes ago, he agreed. Now?

“Does she though?” he asked grimly. “Does she really?” Before Cyrus could even answer, he growled, “And you know she wouldn’t take that as an answer anyway. She’d just go–I don’t know–try it herself and get killed.”

“So what, you’re just going to never tell her? Keep leading her on thinking you’ll help when you won’t?”

“No,” Fiearius snapped sharply. “I will help.”

Cyrus’ eyes widened. “Oh I see. You’ll just get yourself killed in her place. Great idea.”

“I don’t really have another option, Cy.”

“You mean besides just talking to her like a normal human being with decent communicative skills?” He shook his head. “You can’t step foot on that ship and come back from it.”

“Maybe,” Fiearius admitted with a shrug.

“Maybe?! You mean probably.” Cyrus rolled his eyes and held up his hand as he grumbled, “I don’t want to know what happened, really I don’t, but please tell me you’re not set on this out of spite.”

Fiearius glanced over at him, raking his hand through his hair. “No,” he decided firmly. “Maybe when I walked in the room…a little. But. No.” He looked away and stared solemnly at the floor. “It’s not spite.”

“So it’s stupidity then.”

“What?! Hey–”

“Trying to redeem yourself with a noble sacrifice?”

“Cyrus–”

“Or do you really just care about her that much?”

Finally, Cyrus looked over at him, tilted his head and waited pointedly for an answer. He got none save for an averted gaze. “If you do, you shouldn’t be planning a suicide mission then,” he concluded at last. “You should just talk to her. Tell her the truth.”

Fiearius simply glared at the floor and shook his head and Cyrus groaned. “I don’t see why you can’t just be honest about it when–”

“Because I know what it’s like, Cy,” Fiearius interrupted at once, finally looking up at him with a cold hard gaze. “I know what it’s like to lose the person you care about more than anything and to know that no matter what you do, no matter how far you travel for however long, you’ll never see them again.” He paused and looked away again. “And I don’t want her to go through that. I don’t.”

Cyrus it seemed didn’t know what to say. After a tense silence, Fiearius spoke again, more calmly. “She has a chance. It might be small. But it’s a chance. If it were Denarian–” he swallowed hard, “–if it were my son? I would do anything. Absolutely fucking anything to get him back. So I get it. And I’ll do it. Because I told her I would. I gave her that hope that it could be done. And I won’t take that away from her. I can’t.”

A long silence passed between them. Fiearius rested his head in his hand and finally let out a confused, quiet laugh. “I guess Aiden was right. I am doing this for the wrong reasons.”

Cyrus looked down at his hands and then slowly up at his brother. “Sounds like a pretty right reason to me,” he commented with a shrug. The two siblings stared at one another thoughtfully until Cyrus cracked a weak smile and remarked, “Well. Impossible, right?” He turned back to the console with the blueprints. “We’ve done impossible before.” He smirked again. “How bad can it be?”

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For most of the day, Leta kept to herself, pacing her room, attempting to read, anything for a distraction. She knew she owed Fiearius a conversation and she spent hours rehearsing it in her head. I’m really sorry this happened, she’d tell him. I’m really sorry that I let things get out of hand …

She’d keep a safe five feet from him. There was no chance of this happening again, no temptation, no more slip-ups. No more late-night talks. No more story-telling with no one else around. No more whisky. After dinner, she vowed to do it. After dinner she’d find him to talk.

When she stepped into the mess hall that evening, she was startled to see most of the crew crowded inside already, filling the tables. No one was eating, but murmuring curiously and staring at the entryway expectantly.

“What’s going on?” she asked the room at large, slipping through the door.

“Cap’n called us all here for a meetin’,” grunted Rhys from his table. “Dunno why. Come have a seat, Luna.”

“Leta,” she corrected automatically, lowering into a seat beside Corra, who shrugged at her, equally as confused.

Seconds later, Fiearius materialized in the doorway. The crew hushed at once. It occurred to Leta there had never been anything resembling a formal meeting led by Fiearius in all her time aboard.

But it was clear now: something was off. Something was different. His expression was grave as he paused in the doorway, massaging one of his fists in a thoughtful sort of way as Cyrus hovered behind him. For the briefest of moments, their eyes locked from across the room, but then he moved his gaze to the side and addressed them all.

“At 1800 hours, the ship’s setting off for its next destination,” he said, his voice oddly calm. “Most of you, however, won’t be on it.” He waited a moment for the confused looks and hushed whispers of confusion to pass before continuing. “We’ll be heading to the prison ship TTD Baltimore to retrieve one of its prisoners.”

Shock hit Leta’s chest. She could feel Corra looking at her in surprise, but Leta didn’t move. She felt paralyzed and dizzy. They were going after Ren? Now? After all this time?

“It will not be safe,” Fiearius went on, not looking at her, but the whole crew, “It will not be easy. And I will not put any more people than are necessary in the line of that danger.”

With his audience once more completely captive to his word, Fiearius began to take paces across the floor, weaving his path in between the tables and speaking as clearly as he could. “Most of you will be departing over the next hour with any belongings you feel you need. There are arrangements already made for your lodging in the city. Give them my name, you’ll all be well taken care of. The only people I need on hand are myself, the first mate and the doctor. If you’re not one of those people, time to start packing.”

“However, I also would like two more able gun hands,” he went on suddenly, his eyes drifting vaguely towards Corra and Finn. “But considering the risks, I’m not asking. If anyone feels compelled to volunteer, let me know. Otherwise.” His eyes swept back across the entire room. “The ship will return here for you ideally by the end of the week. If it’s not back in a month?” He raised a brow at them curiously and shrugged. “Might be time to find a new ship.”

“If anyone has any questions, please direct them to someone who is not me,” he finished shortly with a bitter smirk. Then he turned to Cyrus. “Let’s get her started up, shall we?” He patted a wall of the ship affectionately.

As he turned to leave the mess hall, Fiearius glanced over his shoulder once more, scanning the room before his gaze found Leta’s. He met her eyes and gave her one slight nod — as if they’d agreed on something, something unspoken — and followed Cyrus downstairs.

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Chapter 47: Giving In Pt. 2

Corra raised an eyebrow in concerned. “You alright over there, chika?”

“I don’t — I don’t know,” said Leta honestly. “I don’t think so.”

Leta stepped fully into the room, closing the hatch behind her as she lowered to the edge of Corra’s bed slowly. Corra perched on a rug on the floor, scooted towards her, curious and eager.

“Something happened last night.” Leta swallowed. “Between Fiearius and I.”

Immediately straightening up in defense, Corra looked suspicious. “What kind of something?”

The words were met with a heavy silence. The moment Leta muttered, “he kissed me,” Corra’s eyes went round.

“He what?!”

“Well — we kissed. It wasn’t just him. We both did.”

“Wait, what?” Corra gasped. “Explain. What happened?”

Leta pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I had to ask him something — ” When Corra flashed her a perplexed look, Leta went on,” — about the deal with Dez. He was in his room, I went up there, and then we started talking. About nothing. And everything.” Her chest clenched, but whether it was out of trepidation or tenderness, she couldn’t be sure. “And one thing led to another and we kissed.”

Corra blinked her eyes slowly, at a loss for words. “I’m confused. Why would you–you wanted to kiss him?”

A long, telling silence followed. Corra seemed to interpret it and her eyes widened even more. “So what does that–does that mean–” Slowly, she looked up at her, the most subtle of curious smiles starting to form on her face. “Do you have, ya know…feelings for him?”

No, said the voice in Leta’s head at once. No, of course not. Fiearius was crude, loud, arrogant and selfish. He got her into trouble more than he ever got her out of it. And she was engaged. She’d made a commitment to someone who was kind, generous, thoughtful …

But the words in her mind did not match the words that she exhaled weakly.

“I think maybe I do.”

Corra’s mouth fell open out of shock — and also, Leta realized, some kind of delight.

“Oh man, really?” she breathed in excitement, as if this were the most juicy piece of gossip she’d ever heard.

“But I — I don’t know,” said Leta quickly. “This is bad, Corra, and honestly? I’m probably just acting out of loneliness. I haven’t seen Ren in … “

“You know, I had a feeling he had a thing for you,” Corra went on briskly, ignoring her, “but I didn’t think it was mutual. I guess I shoulda seen it coming though, the way you two act and all.”

Was that supposed to be reassuring? That meant people had noticed the particular way she and Fiearius exchanged sidelong looks at dinner. The particular way they laughed at one another and then yelled at each other seconds later. The particular way she battled feelings of envy — actual, horrible envy — when she glimpsed him flirting with women in bars.

Guilt churned Leta’s stomach, and she put her face in her hands.

“How long’s this been going on?” Corra demanded suddenly. “And why didn’t you tell me?”

Leta could only guess. “Because I didn’t want it to be true?”

“Yeah, can’t say I understand your taste much…” Corra muttered, smiling. But the smile faded. “But what about Ren?”

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“Corra, I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” Leta breathed fiercely into her hands. “I miss Ren so much. I don’t know why I’m — why this is happening. And I don’t know what to do about it, except pretend this never happened.”

“Aw, hey, c’mon,” said Corra gently, getting up to sit beside Leta and leaning her head on her shoulder. “It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve just had a real crazy year. I mean, you’re on a pirate ship in the middle of nowhere, you’ve been shot at, captured, this ship could go down any minute and to top it all off, you’re here because you lost your fiance. I’m pretty sure anybody with even the tiniest of hearts could forgive you for getting a little emotionally confused.”

Leta mustered a watery sad smile. “I think you’re going a little easy on me, considering I just technically cheated on my fiance.” She pressed her fingers against her eyes, willing away the scene entirely. “I just really shouldn’t care about Fiearius like this.”

At that, Corra murmured thoughtfully, then decided, “Yeah probably not, he’s kind of a jerk,” and cracked a mischievous grin. After a pause, she tilted her head. “So what’re ya gonna do?”

With an enormous effort, Leta slid her hands from her face. “Same as before,” she breathed. “This thing with Fiearius — whatever it is — it can’t change anything. I’m going to get Ren back.”

“Yeah?” Corra offered an encouraging smile that faded just as quickly as it had come. “Does Fiear know that?”

“I’ll tell him if I have to,” said Leta quietly, hoping very much she wouldn’t need to. “It’s always been this way. It’s why I stayed aboard, he knows that. It’s not as if — it’s not like I’m picking Ren over him, it isn’t like that.”

Corra grimaced. “He might not see it that way…”

“Well he has to. I’m engaged.” Leta forced her expression to harden, although she crumbled almost at once. “Gods, I shouldn’t even be thinking about this — or about him — “

“Hey, no,” Corra scolded at once. “It’s okay. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Ya can’t help the way you feel. And you guys have been through a lot together. Can’t fault ya for getting a little swept up in it.”

Leta didn’t want to admit it, but after a long, worried pause, she confessed, “I think I’m a lot swept up in it.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“No, that’s definitely the only other entry.”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.” Cyrus stared up at his brother blankly. “I’ve been reading ship blueprints since I was six. I’m sure.”

Fiearius cast him an annoyed glance before rolling his eyes and deciding not to care about Cyrus’ attitude for the time being. The judgy glares his little brother had been giving him since he’d learned to walk were bad enough. He didn’t also need the snarky know-it-all demeanor. As if everything else wasn’t enough.

“Thank you, little brother, for your expert opinion,” he barked, folding his arms over his chest and leaning against the metal wall.

Cyrus, however, was unapologetic. “You’re welcome,” he replied bluntly. “I’m serious though.” He started drawing lines around the blueprints with his finger as he spoke. “They’ve got this hangar that’s big enough and versatile enough to accommodate any needs they might have, they don’t need a ton of entry points. Anything that comes in, comes in through there. These hatches,” he circled five more points on the map, “are only there to satisfy emergency protocols. They’re probably sealed shut from the inside and even if they’re not, there’s no way you, on your ship or any ship can reach it. This whole section right here,” another drawn line over the screen, “Visibility points. Even with a cloaking device, they’ll just look out the window and our cover’s blown.” He grimaced thoughtfully and looked back at the screen. “They’ve really got this place locked down…How has anyone else broken out?”

Fiearius sighed and gazed at the screen emptily, an image he’d spent far too long staring at over the past few weeks and one he’d probably be staring at even longer for the upcoming ones.

“They haven’t,” he replied shortly. At Cyrus’ look of surprise, he went on, “Not since the modern ships. Not a single breakout. Across the board. Totally clean.”

Cyrus frowned. “I can see why…” he muttered, sparing one last glance at the prints.

“It’s impossible,” Fiearius told him expressionlessly, utterly numbed to the concept by now.

“Have you told her that?” was his little brother’s quiet, hesitant response. The hard look of defeat Fiearius gave in return said it all. Cyrus frowned up at him and sighed, “You need to tell her.”

At once, Fiearius shook his head. “No.”

His frown flattened into annoyance. “No?” he repeated bluntly.

“No,” Fiearius said again.

Chapter 46: Cheap Gin and Low-Grade Explosives Pt. 3

“Get what?” said Leta, wishing privately that he would look away. “Just guess.”

Fiearius shook his head. “No, not that. I don’t get why you’ll tell me about your sexual history with professors — “

“I didn’t say that was true.”

“– and about your fall from grace … and about your parents.” He was still regarding her as if to work out some puzzle written all over her face. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”

So they had arrived here then. Suddenly, unease fell over Leta and she toyed absently with an edge of the blanket. “I told you why,” she said softly, an honest admittance. “I wanted to take care of it. And I didn’t want you to feel responsible for it.”

But Fiearius shook his head. “I don’t buy that,” he said bluntly. “You don’t seem to mind me feeling responsible for anything else. So why this? Why didn’t you come to me with this?”

“Denial, probably. Admitting I was sick to you meant admitting it to myself.”

He didn’t seem satisfied with her answer.

“Don’t you trust me?”

Fiearius had a powerful stare. In this moment, his eyes reflected the light from the window overhead. Determined not to look away, Leta decided to merely confess.

“You know that I do.”

“So why didn’t you say anything?” he said bluntly. “You know, you must have known, that I could help.”

“You’re ridiculously confusing, you know that?” she told him suddenly, her voice steeped in something close to wonder. “You seem to hate it when I come to you to talk to you, but you hate it just as much when I want to take care of something myself. So which is it? Since I apparently have years of my life left now,” she continued, “I should figure this out, yeah? And — come on, Fiear,” she added suddenly, a sigh in her voice. “It wasn’t a matter of not trusting you with this. I already trust you with everything that’s important to me.” Namely, Ren, but it seemed unnecessary to bring her fiance into this specifically. Especially when she added, “Obviously, if I willingly told anyone, it would’ve been you.”

Fiearius fell thoughtfully silent, watching her with that same discerning stare that made her spine tense under the weight of it. Finally, his voice cut through the space between them. “Yeah, alright,” he muttered, relenting. “I guess…I’m no stranger to keeping secrets either.”

“No kidding.”

“Next time, though,” he went on firmly, pointing his finger at her. “You fuckin’ tell me if you’re dying alright? I don’t need to hear it from some shitty Paravian cop.” A worried smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth. “Just glad you pulled outta this one unscathed.”

“Not quite unscathed,” she corrected, suddenly pulling the edge of her pantleg up. The scar that ran up her calf was eight inches long and thick as a pencil. “See? I’ll be cut up like you soon enough.”

Before she could conceal the mark once more, she was given reason to pause: Fiearius, his eyes downcast, reached out his hand and began to curiously draw his calloused fingers up the marred lines of the flesh toward her knee, tracing slowly the scar with his fingertips, as if examining it.

“I like it,” he told her, his voice gone rather soft. “It suits you.” He ran his finger back down the line slowly. “All that perfect sheltered paleness…and one streak of darkness.”

A shiver rolled down Leta’s spine as Fiearius’ fingertips stopped near her knee again, freezing her in place and making goosebumps rise on her skin. She wasn’t sure if she could speak if she wanted to.

It’d certainly been a long time since she was touched like that.

Dismissively as she could manage, she said at last, “I don’t think I like it much.”

But it wasn’t even convincing to her own ears. When she flicked her eyes up to his face, her gaze went immediately to his own scars — the one that jut through his brow, the other that cut down his jawline. And he was watching her, too, a burn behind his eyes.

Truly, Leta wasn’t sure what she should have been feeling just then. Anticipation was coursing through her like an electric current. It was either panic or longing.

But she did not pull away.

Evidently, this was all the permission Fiearius needed — not that he ever asked for permission with anything — to lean in and lift his hand, gently grasping the side of her face. His thumb swiped strands of her hair past her cheek, the briefest pause, before he leaned in, closing the distance between them to capture her lips with his.

Feeble protests in the back of her mind swept away, and she was instantly shocked by the warmth and force behind his hungry kiss.

And for that, after her second of paralysis, she began to relax against his lips. The tension slowly uncoiled from her frame as she sighed shakily, relaxing against his hold on her, allowing herself to fall into the kiss in earnest. Below them, her fingers unhooked from the liquor bottle, letting it drop to the floor at her feet, before her forearm swept around his neck. Here, her fingers slipped through the back of his hair, knotting themselves there as she pressed herself closer.

His hand gripped the small of her back, so without breaking their kiss and without relinquishing her hold, she slowly leaned back so her shoulders and back found the bed instead.

His fingers were in her hair, his breath near her ear, his mouth lowered to her neck. But then all at once, Leta could not be beholden anymore. Behind her closed eyes, her vision flashed stark grey. The color of Vescentian’s flag, the darkened shiny marble of the buildings, all the structures that surrounded Ren’s stone casket.

The memory caused a scorching crease of pain to sear jaggedly down her spine, the slightest flinch in her face when she felt Fiearius’ mouth slope down her collarbone. The intensity of both pleasure and pain roused her into sobriety as she suddenly went rigid, sucking in a pained, hiss of a breath.

“Fiear,” she breathed, tilting her head slightly to the side, while her eyes flitted rapidly at the ceiling over his shoulder. “Fiearius. We can’t do this.”

Fiearius’ voice was a warm, hoarse breath on her neck. “Yes we can.”

“Fiear.”

He pushed himself up on his palms, concern in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”

What had she done, what had she almost done? The warmth in the room was gone. She was cold and now, panic gripped her.

Leta sat up and put her feet to the floor, adjusting the collar of her shirt hurriedly. “We can’t do this, you know we can’t.”

Fiearius sat up in the bed, watching her as she edged to the door. “I don’t understand,” he said at last, bitterness in his voice. “Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“That — ” Her voice faltered. “That doesn’t matter. What I want doesn’t matter.”  Was he really going to make her say it? “I’m engaged, Fiearius.”

“Enga — “ He cut himself off, clasping his eyes shut and pressing his palm against his forehead. “Listen, your fiance, he’s–I can’t–” But whatever Fiearius was going to say about Ren, she never found out. Fiearius dropped his hand and looked over at her earnestly, even pleadingly.

“I’m sorry,” he said at once. “I shouldn’t have–I really shouldn’t have done that. But listen. Can we talk? Not here, maybe. The bridge or–”

“I think we’ve talked enough for tonight.”

Her words hung in the air, heavy with guilt. Leta knew if she looked back at him, she might not leave his room at all — so without glancing over her shoulder, she pulled open the hatch and slipped into the hallway, marching back to her own room alone.

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Chapter 46: Cheap Gin and Low-Grade Explosives Pt. 2

“There had better be a good explanation for this, Cordova,” greeted the steely cold voice from the console speakers in the bridge. Desophyles leaned back in the pilot’s seat of his ship, examining the small black sphere of the Caelum Lex in his hand. He had one ear turned to the speakers patiently as other voices chimed into the meeting.

“To come so close to your target and to, yet again, allow him to escape,” said another man, full of ice. “We’re growing weary of this pattern.”

“You swore to us that you could handle this hunt,” spit out a woman, another member of the Council. “And yet four years have gone by and you’re still coming back empty-handed. Perhaps its time to reconsider your assignment.”

It wasn’t the first time the Council had threatened to reassign him. They had often considered the notion, but each time, they had come to the same conclusion: if anyone could catch Soliveré, it would be Dez. So far, he had not been successful.

But that would change. Soon.

Calm and formal, Dez replied, “I’m not empty-handed.”

“Yes, this…device you mentioned in your message,” the first voice went on, “Presumably you saw it within your rights to decide that this…thing…is worth more than the stolen property in Soliveré’s possession?”

“Of course not,” Dez told them simply. “But this ‘thing’ is a Caelum Lex, the missing piece in building a new terraformer. The only one in existence. The things we can use it for–”

“ — are not nearly as important as getting back what we’ve already lost,” interrupted one of the voices nastily. “You have one assignment, Cordova, and that is to retrieve Soliveré alive and return him to Satieri. It is not to independently collect assets you deem significant. Retrieve Soliveré. Return him. That’s it.”

Dez restrained the urge to bite back. He put his forehead in his hand, thankful that they couldn’t see him through the screen. “Which I am doing,” he said. “Acquiring the Caelum Lex was just a side effect of the plan.”

“Oh so you actually have a plan?” one of the voices snapped. “We were beginning to think you just enjoy wasting our time.”

“I have a plan,” Dez confirmed, ignoring the slight. “The girl.” Absently, he glanced over to another screen where an image of the Vescentian doctor glowed on the screen beside a list of records. “She’s the key. She’s his weakness.”

“What do you mean,” spat an impatient voice, “‘his weakness?”

“He’ll risk a lot it seems for her wellbeing. Lets down his defenses even. I can use that. I can use her.”

“Well for your sake, I hope you’re right,” said the voice bitingly. “This is your last chance, Cordova. Bring him back.”

The COMM system switched off as the Council disconnected one by one. In the silence that followed, Dez smirked in the darkness, still watching the image of the girl curiously. “Yes, sir.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“One: When I was a teenager,  I got too high, thought I was a trapeze artist in an opera and jumped off the balcony,” Fiearius was saying easily, leaning back on one hand as he swung a leg over the edge of his bed. “Broke a dozen bones in my body.”

Mid-drink of whiskey, Leta nearly choked on her laughter. “You what?

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“Two,” Fiearius went on briskly, reaching over her lap to snatch the bottle from her hands, “I threatened to kill my high school principal’s prized show dog if he told my parents I hadn’t been attending for two years. And three: before I bought the Dionysian, I had never been off-world nor stepped on a ship of any kind.” He smiled proudly and tilted the whiskey bottle toward her face. “Guess away.”

As it were, Leta wasn’t particularly good at Two Truths and a Lie, although they’d been at it for a half hour now. It was the only drinking game Leta knew and she was failing, wonderfully and miserably, as the whiskey bottle dwindled between them.

“The uh — last one?” she guessed. “Is that last one a lie? Although I hope it’s the one about the show dog. You’ve done a lot of terrible things, but that’s got to be the worst.”

“I’m sorry, your answer is incorrect. Drink.” Satisfied in his victory of stumping her, Fiearius smirked broadly. “Don’t worry, I didn’t kill the dog. Nor threaten to. Did steal it though.” He shrugged. “Pretty sure the little guy was happier with me regardless. Anyway,” he said quickly, “Your turn.”

Leta crossed her legs together and sat up straighter on his bed, giving a distinct, important clearing of her throat. “One, I was devotedly religious until I was about seventeen,” she offered, her voice even and measured. “Two, I was valedictorian of my high school. And three, I almost went to school to study literature but my dad threatened to cut me off.”

Fiearius’ mouth fell open and he jumped at an answer immediately. “You were not devoutly religious. Were not. Not possible.” But he leaned in close to study her face, more intently than he’d ever looked at her. “Well…maybe it’s possible…” he muttered, hesitant. “Valedictorian I can see. Literature I can see. But I cannot ever imagine you on your knees praying for anything. Nor do I want to. It’s far too passive for you.”

“Well you’re nearly there,” she began, trying to bite back her smile. “First of all, I was valedictorian. And I do enjoy literature. Aiden and I had a nice bookswap going for awhile,” she noted, remembering fondly. “And now I have his library left to go through … but, I never considered studying it really. So yes — I was, in fact, religious. Can you imagine if I walked into a chapel now? I’d be struck by lightning.”

Fiearius barked a laugh of understanding, which was prompt for Leta to glance sideways at him in surprise.

“You know,” she mused, “I thought you’d have a stronger opinion on religion. I thought you’d hate the idea of it.”

But Fiearius merely shrugged a shoulder. “Nah, I’m not the one who hates religion. That’s Cyrus. Thinks it causes people to be weak and stupid. Blind, he says. It’s probably true. But I don’t really see the problem. I don’t buy into the whole package myself, but if helps some people? Whatever. To each their own.”

Fiearius stared at his bare feet for a moment before he looked up. “Alright, this is fascinating, but it’s my turn.” He drew a deep breath as though preparing for a performance. “One, Dez and I joined a ballroom dancing club because we thought it would get us more women. Two, I’ve only ever had one truly steady relationship that lasted longer than a month. And three, I had a lisp when I was a kid.”

At that, Leta could only gaze at him in surprise. “You’re good at this game, this one’s even more difficult,” she acknowledged fairly. How much did she want to know about Fiearius, anyway? Sometimes when she learned about  him it made her realize, alarmingly, how similar they were; other times, it created miles of distance between them.

In this moment, Leta was determined to keep it light. “When you and I danced at that gala months ago … you were pretty good,” she deliberated, her head quirked sideways as she looked him over. “But maybe you’re a natural. And the relationship thing — you seem like an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so I might believe that one,” she remarked slowly, thinking briefly of his wife, though she did not allow her thoughts to settle there for long.

“But a month is so short,” she continued, almost wincing. “Is your attention span really that bad? And then the lisp one, maybe that’s true. Maybe you were made fun of for it and that’s why you were such a bully,” she commented, and because it was her, and because it was him, this was not an insult. She grinned. “Or maybe you’re just naturally aggressive. But — the relationship one?”

His laughter was loud and warm.

“Ballroom dance club? Really?” He scoffed. “You don’t know me at all. And a month is short,” he agreed with a shrug and then admitted sheepishly, “But yes, so is my attention span. Or perhaps my ability to be stable…”

After a brief introspective pause, he went on excitedly, as though almost proud of this story, “I did have a lisp though. That’s true. Which was a pain in the ass. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Satierans have an annoying habit of having s’s in their names. Fiearius, Cyrus, Desophyles. Couldn’t say ‘em. So I was just the weird kid with the lisp who couldn’t read. It was fantastic.”

Leta laughed. “Gods, it’s hard to imagine you even having a childhood. In my head you’ve always just been a science experiment,” she admitted, eyebrows raised. “One gone badly wrong. Like if a chemist mixed cheap gin and low-grade explosives.”

Perhaps now affected by the number of shots he’d taken, he burst into laughter at her summation of his contents and creation. “Damn. You’ve figured out my secret. I was so sure that making up stories about my youth would convince you of my humanity, but alas, the real truth is revealed.”  He heaved a mournful sigh. “Your turn again.”

“Alright. Here’s a good one. One — I didn’t have my first drink until I was nineteen. “Two, I was named after my mom. Three — I slept with one of my professors in college.”

She paused to let this sink in, and Fiearius arched his eyebrows, looking intrigued and impressed. He squinted at her face, as if it might reveal the right answer. But the longer he watched her — too long, really — the more that thoughtful stare faded and softened into something else.

At last he said, quietly, “I don’t get it.”